Fortune has a report on why iPad issues of magazines cost more than the same issues in paper format. On the iPad, TIME Magazine and Popular Science cost $4.99 each—as opposed to paper subscription prices of 35 cents or $1 per issue respectively.

Why do they cost so much? It turns out that people are willing to pay that much. Josh Quittner, TIME’s editor at large for digital development, writes in a blog entry:

Yes, the Time Magazine app costs $4.99. The rationale: The app offers 100% of the print magazine, plus photo galleries, video and other iPad-only goodies. While the pricing was not my decision, and I opposed it, I was wrong: It turns out to have been a smart move. While I’m not allowed to say how many copies we’ve sold to date, I can tell you it’s sold about 10X what I had predicted to my peers. (Admittedly, I had predicted a small number. Still, I was shocked by how wrong I was.) Advertiser enthusiasm was even more surprising—clearly, they, too, see that the tablet gives them a bigger, richer canvas than the Web. And they need to understand how to use it as much as we do.

Fortune notes that the price per issue will come down soon; Apple will be making changes to the iTunes store to allow magazines to offer subscriptions. But the prices will still be higher than paper versions.

On a related note, Peter Kafka at All Things Digital’s “MediaMemo” reports that Adobe has been working with Condé Nast to rewrite their Wired Magazine app into an Objective C version consistent with Apple’s new development guidelines, rather than the cross-platform Flash version they had been building before Apple’s development-tool restrictions came out.

As Kafka says, while this does mean all the time and effort spent developing the app has not been wasted,

The bad news is that the whole point of the Condé Nast project was to create a platform that publishers could use once to produce digital publications that would work on a range of platforms. Now those hopes have been dashed.


  1. I have subscribed to a couple of magazines on the ipad. I was thrilled to see a UK web design magazine that’s normally $16 on the newsstand can be subscribed to for $26 for six months. Maybe I’d pay the same as for a print subscription, since some print subs are $10/$12 a year.

    But I won’t pay MORE for an electronic subscription without something extra like access to the archives from the ipad. That’s ridiculous.

  2. Issues of magazines in their own apps are currently much more expensive, but magazines in Zinio seem close to the same price as their print counterparts. For example, National Geographic is $15/year in print and $16.50/year through Zinio.

    I have several subscriptions through Zinio. The app is not perfect — page rendering is a bit slow — but it provides, at the very least, duplicates of the print magazines with links enabled. A few of their magazines, including National Geographic, are multimedia enhanced, offering the same functionality as many standalone magazine apps.

    I won’t subscribe to e-mags which are as expensive as most of the current offerings. Yes, many offer more than their print counterparts, but other production costs are greatly reduced or eliminated, such as printing and distribution. There is no real justification for the higher price. Either the publishers are greedy and testing to see what the market will bear, or they are trying to insure the e-versions fail, to justify their print versions and the old business model they live by.

  3. Magazine publishers must understand that to attract subscribers, either the content is going to have to justify the price (e.g., The Economist) or the price had better be dirt cheap because there are plenty of free high quality alternative websites to the traditional magazines.

    If Time magazine believes for a moment that their weekly issues are worth $5, they are dreaming. The only reason that I subscribe to the print edition is because of the price and not so much for the mediocre content. While they may be attracting initial interest because of the novelty of reading on an iPad, it is a failed business model.

    I no longer subscribe to any U.S. car magazines for this exact reason; the quality has fallen precipitously, and web sites like Jalopnik provide far more entertainment and timely news. However, I am willing to spend $150 annually on 2 monthly car magazines published in the UK because their content is stellar. Even a recent offer of $8 for a year’s subscription to an American car magazine was not worth my time. It is all about quality!

  4. I think these comments simply highlight that many of the people who read TeleRead are not indicative of the market. We perform research and refuse to be fleeced simply because we prefer an electronic version.

    Here is Josh Quittner telling us, though, that sales are great despite higher prices.

    It makes you wonder about the validity of Joanna’s Agency poll as it applies to the market as a whole…

  5. Of course a lot of us bought the first couple ipad issues of Time and other magazines at the high price — it’s a new technology, and a new medium and we are willing to pay more to experiment and find out if it’s worthwhile.

    Long term though, I think the high price is unsustainable. Come back after you’ve published the 10th ipad edition of Time, and tell us whether you’re still selling 10X your projected volumes. My suspicion is that the once the novelty wears off, pricing will become a far more important consideration than it is now.

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